So what will your holidays look like? Will it be full of family, friends, food and drink, parties and presents? It’s a time of year when everyone comes together, when you spend time with older relatives and it can often be the only time that you spend with them. Expectations run high and people can be emotional.
If you haven’t seen someone for a while and they behave differently to the way they used to because they are living with dementia, it can be quite distressing for them and you.
For people living with dementia this time of year can be a confusing and distressing time but help and advice is available.
I chatted with Peter Smith, who organises memory cafes as part of Rothwell’s dementia friendly community, on how to make Christmas a more dementia-friendly time.
Here are some of Peter’s tips and also some from the Alzheimer’s Society
For a person living with dementia, this time of year can be an emotional time. It can bring back memories both good and bad, so wherever possible try to avoid talking about those who have passed away. This can create further confusion and frustration. Keep any expectations reasonable, never expect too much from the person.
Plan ahead: If you have a guest with dementia staying, the house will be unfamiliar to them, putting labels on doors could help – for example, the bathroom and the kitchen.
Think about safety: make sure you leave lights on and doors open so the person with dementia is less likely to get confused if they’re up at night. Remind people to close outside doors securely if needed.
You may want to avoid flashing lights as decorations and loud music.
Think of some activities the person may enjoy doing in quieter moments. Looking at old family photo albums; involve people in your activities, such as going for a walk, baking or decorating the tree or house. Carol singing stimulates both mind and body and it’s good to do something jointly with other people.
If gifts are offered suggest “usable” items such as clothing, slippers, gloves or toiletries.
Avoid technology, although DVDs are good stimulus, especially older films, try and avoid newer noisy or violent films.
Try to record favourite television programmes, preferably shorter ones rather than long.
Avoid leaving or handling larger cash amounts, in the house.
Think about their usual or past religious attitudes.
Food and mealtimes: Don’t overload your guest’s plate. Although many people eat a lot at this time of year, a full plate can be quite daunting for someone who has difficulties eating. Don’t use white china with a white tablecloth this can be confusing for a person with dementia. Take advantage of the season to have a brightly coloured table covering or crockery.
The person with dementia may feel self-conscious at a large dinner table, so avoid making them feel the centre of attention.
If the house becomes very busy, designate a ‘quiet room’ and agree not to watch television or listen to music in there. Make sure everyone knows where the room is.
Arrange a visiting rota, and include gaps between visits so the person can have a “quiet” time.
Talk to family and friends before any parties or get-togethers, so that the person isn’t overwhelmed by visitors. Too many people can be confusing so, if possible, keep numbers to three or four.
Remember that friends, family, neighbours may feel uncomfortable with conversations or actions, of the person who has dementia and they may also need time to themselves.
And if you know someone who is a carer, invite them to parties as they may feel isolated and alone too.
These are just a few tips that can help make this time of year friendlier for people living with dementia, their carers, friends and family.
To find out more about the dementia friendly community in Rothwell and memory cafes, including one in a pub, contact Peter on 0113 2889068 or 07845935233 or checkout the Facebook pages for Tea Cosy Memory Café, Dementia Friendly Rothwell, Care n’ Hounds or Cosy Corner Memory Café.
More information about dementia can be found at the Alzheimer’s Society
There’s also lots more information about staying well this winter at Stay Well This Winter